St. Vitus’ Plauge; Or; The Truth Behind Disney Song and Dance Numbers

Between the 14th and 17th century, a rather unique plague repeatedly struck Europe: St. Vitus’ Plague. It’s also known as the Dancing Plague or dancing mania. Large groups of people would abruptly break out into dance, which could last for days, weeks, or even months, only seldom stopping for food or rest. Many people died of exhaustion during the breakouts of St. Vitus’ Plague. One incident, the Dancing Plague of 1518, affected over 400 people, lasting for a full month. Other, related, phenomenon existed as well. Tarantism is the best example of one of them- it was a form of dancing mania nominally either caused by a spider bite or performed to cure one of its venom, though scientists and historians mostly agree that spiders weren’t involved. Ergot poisoning has also been linked to dancing mania. (Hurrah for hallucinogen producing fungi on grains being extremely common in Medieval Europe!) (more…)